Monday, October 02, 2006

DC Examiner on the plight of the ANCs

Elected ANC seats not so coveted
Michael Neibauer, The Examiner

WASHINGTON - The glamour of an unpaid but critical elected office that often pits neighbor against neighbor and draws harassment was not enough to charm D.C. residents into seeking dozens of open seats on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

Come Nov. 7, when all 286 existing Advisory Neighborhood Commission positions will be up for grabs, 44 of the single-member districts will have no candidate, either because residents failed to collect enough petition signatures or because no one was interested.

“The issues have gotten more complicated, more time-consuming and a lot of the meetings of the boards we’re expected to attend, or go to, or testify before, are all during the day when people are working,” said Karen Perry, commissioner in ANC-3F. “It’s getting harder and harder to serve.”

Perry is running for re-election to another two-year term. More than half of her ANC, which represents Tenleytown, North Cleveland Park and Forest Hills, could be unrepresented come January unless write-in candidates accept the positions.

“There’s always a number of write-ins, and it’s always a surprising number, which is unfortunate,” said D.C. Council Member Phil Mendelson, who served as a commissioner for 20 years.

ANCs are considered jumping-off points for higher office. Democratic mayoral nominee Adrian Fenty served, as did Mendelson and Council Members Jack Evans and David Catania.

While on the job, commissioners hold significant power over liquor license applications and zoning variances. They weigh in on policy decisions impacting traffic, public safety, trash collection and recreation. And they are a critical link between neighbors and their local government.

But there are downsides. The positions are unpaid, time-consuming and even dangerous. In some cases, commissioners have been harassed, attacked — one Ward 5 commissioner’s car was twice set on fire — and derided for their efforts.

Commissioners talk of incentives to maintain or spur interest. Perhaps a tax break or a stipend, they say. Hire more staff in the government’s ANC support office. Or at least reschedule meetings for such bodies as the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board — both of which meet during the day — to accommodate commissioners’ full-time jobs.

“There’s nothing the city can do to incentivize ANCs,” said Christopher Dyer, a Dupont Circle commissioner. “It’s a volunteer position. We do it for civic engagement and responsiveness.”

ANC seats with no candidates, by ward

Ward 1: 2
Ward 2: 3
Ward 3: 9
Ward 4: 3
Ward 5: 8
Ward 6: 3
Ward 7: 5
Ward 8: 11

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